Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made headlines a couple of weeks ago when he labeled President Barack Obama a "snob" for saying that his goal was for every American to be able to obtain a college education. Although the name calling was unfortunate, Santorum accurately captured the Left's view of education.
The fact is education in America has become an entrenched, moribund institution trapped in the last century. At the K-12 level union power trumps the interests of children. At the higher education level liberal indoctrination has supplanted preparing students to actually function in the workplace.
President Obama, whose life experience has been heavily influenced by Leftist academicians, is parroting the view that only individuals who are exposed to a liberal college education are destined for successful, fulfilling lives. In this case the word "liberal" applies both to political ideology as well as the traditional educational sense of providing a well-rounded education.
Our nation's universities have become indoctrination machines, inculcating students with Leftist ideology while simultaneously separating students from the real world where the forces of free market economics apply. What is being lost in the process is all too many students are graduating without marketable skills. This is producing a new generation of young workers who find themselves under-employed and struggling to pay off heavy student debt loads.
The fact is a four-year liberal arts degree is neither desirable, nor necessary for everybody. Our economy needs workers skilled in the building trades, trained technicians to provide medical care, assembly workers capable of building highly advanced technological equipment, and entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs whose outside-the-box thinking have changed our world. And, to make life for all more enjoyable we need artists and writers, actors and singers. In short, we do not live in a one-size-fits-all world.
Twice each year at the Lincoln Institute we survey business owners. What we hear consistently is that our schools and universities are not turning out graduates prepared to enter the workplace. All too many businesses find they must train or re-train workers before they can become productive. This becomes yet another overhead cost businesses must absorb and ultimately build into the cost of the goods or services they are providing. Those higher costs in turn make them less competitive in the global economy.
The "snob" factor, as Senator Santorum called it, lies in the fact education at all levels has failed to keep pace with the changes in both our society and our economy. At the k-12 level the education establishment resists with all of its considerable power recognizing parental rights to school choice and fights such innovations as charter schools and cyber schools.
Higher education has done a good job of harnessing the power of the internet to make on-line courses available to both traditional and non-traditional students. The real bright spot are community colleges, which provide greater access, lower tuition, and more practical educational opportunities than four-year degree universities. Unfortunately, community colleges are all too often looked down upon by the educational elite, even though they have been more nimble in reacting to market forces.
In labeling the president a "snob" for saying all Americans should be able to afford a college education Senator Santorum was not implying that all Americans should not be educated. What he was saying is that higher education means different things and takes on a different form for different people. Not everyone must go to an Ivy League college and "open their hearts and minds" to ideology spewing professors.
Nor should taxpayers be required to continue writing a blank check. Governor Tom Corbett has taken considerable criticism for cutting state spending on both K-12 and higher education. But it is precisely that previously unfettered flow of funds that has allowed the education establishment to become fat, happy, unresponsive and ultimately less effective. Given the realities of the current economy this is the perfect time to have a conversation about whether or not we should continue to fund an outmoded system, or whether the time has come to strike out in new directions.
A combination of powerful vested interests; and yes — snobbery — has prevented that from happening. Senator Santorum deserves credit for understanding the problem and for injecting a very important issue into the national debate.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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